“Habit” vs “Voice”

Having a great time... not thinking about grammar!

Let me begin by saying that I do not want to be unteachable or uneditable. I do not claim to know everything about the craft of writing. I have read many thousands of books in the last 45 years, I “hear” my writing in my head and so have a good feel for how it will read, but I don’t claim to be JRR Tolkien or even Stephen King. This post is not coming from a place of pride, just musing through something an agent told me, that I’m not sure I agree with… but I might be talked into it. Or not.

So all that being said, here’s the deal. I wrote a historical romance at the suggestion of an agent, and in the middle of writing it, I discovered self publishing. I am really sold on self publishing, even taking my marketing *skills* (lack thereof) into consideration. But after much internal debate I sent it to her, after having a dozen beta readers read and comment. So I had a pretty good idea on it going in.

One of her 2 comments was that I had too many “abrupt” sentences. Here are some examples:

  • He stared at her, loathing in his eyes. She stayed still, afraid to move, afraid to speak.
  • His blue eyes were the color of the sky at sunrise, tears threatening to fall.
  • The master bedroom was dark, heavy draperies pulled over the tall windows.

First of all, are they abrupt? Do they need conjunctions and other grammatical structures to make them more “readable?” I don’t know… I don’t think so. Reading them now, I’m happy with them. I’ve heard back from one beta reader so far (I just heard from the agent at 2:30), and she didn’t find the writing abrupt at all. I’ve contacted my most detailed beta readers and asked, so we’ll see.

My question really is this: IS this a “bad habit”, or is it just “voice?” I taught a lot about voice when I taught creative writing, especially when I was teaching “reluctant writers” (my favorite). One of the biggest killers of children’s enthusiasm for writing is killing their voice. I think voice is probably the most important thing in a novel, and the most sanitized by the publishing establishment. Some get it through — Janet Evanovich definitely has a voice, and boy, does she use short staccato sentences! But I love the Stephanie Plum books, as do millions of others.

I wrote this romance and really enjoyed it, much to my surprise. My romance reading friends really enjoyed it (also much to my surprise!). It’s not a “typical” romance, probably because I don’t read typical romance. I don’t want to write in the voice of typical romance, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t fall in the genre and isn’t something romance readers would like.

I guess it’s a good, old fashioned conundrum. What do you think?

Oh – the other thing. Ellipses and m-dashes. In my day, ellipses were for pauses, and m-dashes were for asides. That’s how I use them, as I did in this post. Is there some new rule that I missed the memo on? She said I should use m-dashes in place of ellipses, which makes no sense in the context I just stated. Those aren’t indicating asides. Have the grammar police passed some new regulation? Anybody know??



Filed under Writing

4 responses to ““Habit” vs “Voice”

  1. Did someone call the grammar police? I attend the church of AP Style and they use ellipsis either to indicate an incomplete thought or the deletion of content (condensing quotes, texts, etc). Dashes (they don’t specify type of dash but display an em dash) for abrupt changes in thought or emphatic pauses, plus some other things like series, datelines, etc. So there’s your technical answer, though I think if whatever you’re doing is clear to your readers and you’re doing it consistently, I’d be looser with that for a novel (vs. a news story, business communication…).

    As for voice? I might find it tiring if every sentence is that “abrupt” but I don’t find them jarring at all. Like you said, it’s your voice. And I hate seeing voice squashed. If we all wrote the same way, the library would be a boring place.

    • I laughed at “emphatic pauses” – mine are unemphatic pauses! haha! I am consistent in how I use them, to indicate a trailing thought or a pause, or an interuption by another character

      “I’d really like a…”
      “New car!”
      “…candy bar.”


  2. is an ellipse the …? I use them often–and…I really liked your post. I don’t think your sentences are abrupt. What I’ve been hearing is just the opposite “get rid of ‘and’, ‘the’, any extra words in the sentence.” I don’t listen to any of it. And I agree that these sorts of ‘rules’ kill voice. Keep on writing!!

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